Instructure  announced today that it’s launching a new service called Canvas Network . The service is being positioned as an alternative to existing MOOC vendors or platforms (such as Coursera or EdX) to allow colleges to teach open online courses on the Canvas platform.
The following is an e-mail interview that I conducted with Devin Knighton, Instructure's director of public relations.
Question 1: Would a college need to be an existing Instructure customer to offer courses on Canvas.net?
No. We have schools hosting courses on the Canvas Network that are not full learning management system customers. For example, Ball State University is hosting a course about “Gender through Comic Books” with help from Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man. Pretty interesting course. Yet, Ball State chose to put the course on Canvas Network rather than on Blackboard, the institution’s main LMS.
Question 2: Are there costs for institutions wanting to participate in Canvas.net?
No. Canvas Network is free for institutions, teachers and students.
Question 3: Are the courses available for students only at existing Instructure Canvas institutions, or can the institutions running the course open them up to anyone? Are there any caps on the enrollments that Instructure will support?
The courses are open to everyone – not just those attending schools using the Canvas platform. They allow students from anywhere in the world to experience learning as defined by each institutions. Some courses will be massive, with no cap. Others will be smaller, and will include a cap. The point is we enable schools to decide what works best for them.
We believe students who come to Canvas.net and take a course will get to experience how an institution teaches and how its program works. We’re giving institutions the control to design the program they want and to open it to all students everywhere.
Question 4: Is there any difference in the Canvas.net offering from a traditional Canvas course? For instance, would all the students be able to use the Canvas mobile apps? How about the 3rd party tools in Canvas such as Kaltura and BigBlueButton? Or analytics?
Courses offered on Canvas Network use the features provided by the core Canvas learning platform. These include mobile apps, Analytics, Kaltura, BigBlueButton and other modern Web tools integrated into Canvas.
Question 5: Blackboard has a similar offering through its CourseSites  platform. How is Canvas.net different?
Canvas.net has a very different goal than CourseSites. CourseSites lets anyone build a course and offer it to a specific set of students in a closed environment. Canvas.net is a place to highlight and showcase open courses that anyone in the world can sign up for.
Question 6: An advantages of an EdX or a Coursera is not only that they offer a learning platform, but that they offer value added services. These services include learning design and faculty development work, as well as access to a community of practice around open online education. EdX, Coursera and Udacity also aggregate courses from across institutions, therefore bringing together an audience. Why would any institution go with Canvas.net without these value added services?
We're very fortunate that the audience we're bringing together at launch represents more than 4 million teachers and students from over 260 schools already learning on the Canvas platform. Many of these teachers have been teaching online for a number of years. The existing experience and ability to network creates a living community of practice that can evolve with the instructors rather than following a one-size-fits-all model.
We believe schools will choose Canvas Network because in addition to providing a cross-institutional audience, it gives them the flexibility to exercise their own expertise and educational missions.
Question 7: What is the business model for Instructure with Canvas.net? Is this a way to expose more people to the Canvas platform? If I were a current Canvas customer I might be worried that Instructure is getting distracted with massive open online courses, and not devoting enough attention to my needs. How would you address this concern?
We’re building Canvas Network on the backbone of solid revenue from our main learning management system. We’re enabling our customers to make courses open to the world. Some of our customers will want to create massive open online courses, and some will want to create smaller or a fee-based courses. The point is that we are focused on building the best learning platform that enables teachers and schools to transform education. Canvas Network is an extension of that. The investments we've made in bringing Canvas Network online are improvements to the LMS. In developing Canvas Network, we've been able to focus on some of our most requested features.
What do you want to know about Canvas.net ?